Made In Cuba: How Ylette Luis’s Grandmother Inspired Her Journey Into Jewelry Design

Ylette Luis was just a baby when she received her first piece of jewelry. Since then, her grandmother Xiomara has led the Cuban-American entrepreneur into a life of excess with alajas adorning her body. “More is more,” she says.

It wasn’t a surprise to Luis that, when it came time to name her jewelry brand, she’d turn to her grandmother – a lifelong peluquera with an affinity for statement accessories. This is how Xio by Ylette was born.

As her business expands, Luis reflects on how channeling her grandmother has been the greatest asset to her brand.

“I was born and raised in Miami. My family is Cuban. I think I’ve been wearing jewelry since the time I came out of the hospital. I was always into jewelry since I was little. When I was in high school, I’d make little beaded bracelets for my friends. I used to sell them by word of mouth. As I got older, I started thinking I could really make something out of this. In 2017, we launched Xio. I started with a 305 piece. We started with other custom orders and then from that I started bringing more of who I am into the brand. I started bringing astrology, constellations, all of that. 

Ring and earrings from Xio by Ylette.

My grandma’s name is Xiomara. When I was coming up with Xio, I wanted to honor her.  My grandmother was the one who raised me and I’d always be wearing her jewelry. I’d always be like, “Cuanto tú te mueras, eso es mío.” She was the one who gave me my first pair of earrings when I was little, my first Azabache pin. She gave me one of those bracelets with the 15 on them to celebrate quinces. 

So much of being Cuban is about falling in love with jewelry. A lot of Latino babies, they leave the hospital with their little Azabache pins and the bracelets. I always thought that was normal but to the rest of the world, it’s not. One time I was sharing baby pictures in San Francisco and the people asked me, “Why are you all decked out in jewelry as a baby?” I was like, “Wait, isn’t every baby like this?” I always think that less not more, more is more. 

Everyone in my family is very creative. Starting with my grandmother who had her own salon since she was 14 in Cuba. My sister has her own nail polish brand and an apparel brand called Lights Label. We do the jewelry. My mom was in the beauty business. So the entire family has always been into entrepreneurship and being creative in the beauty and style space. It’s definitely in our genes. 

My grandmother would work under her aunt who was a hairstylist. She told her that she wanted to be one too. She started her little salon in Cuba in the back of the house when she was 14. When she came to the United States, everybody knew her like “Xiomara la peluquera.” So by word of mouth, people started to get to know her here. She’s been an entrepreneur her whole life. 

She’s 83 and still working. Right now, she can’t wait to go back to work. It really taught me that when you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work.

As told to Frances Solá-Santiago

Frances Solá-Santiago

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